Manley Labs Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B Monoblocks
Neo-Classic 300B MonoblocksThe wonderfully simple 300B directly heated triode is virtually Lee De Forest's very first evolutionary 3-element piece, comprising only filament, input grid and anode output. Brought to reliable perfection by Western Electric USA and later by Standard Telephones UK as the 4300B, the 300B was very much intended and widely used for telephony amplification. But audio enthusiasts of older times knew a good thing when they saw (heard!) it and the great love affair between the 300B and music began... and dwindled many years later as the American Western Electric 300B was taken out of production in the late 1980's making the genuine ones extremely valuable and, accordingly, very highly prized as collectors' pieces. With the Asian-driven passion and resultant revival of SINGLE ENDED topology the call for the 300B to be put back into production was too overwhelming for the Chinese factories to resist. The Russian and the re-start of USA manufacture of the genuine Western Electric original have further expanded the selection. Basic thermionic simplicity... directly-heated triodes... it is a drug for some, a religion for others...
With its decidedly (and studiedly) 'retro' physical proportions- very deep front-to-back dimensions with a narrow side-to-side width, this layout closely follows concepts of a bygone era, where the well-conceived intention was to keep the power supply as far as possible from the hum and noise susceptible octal input tubes. The output tubes themselves require careful distancing from the mains transformer and, of course, require pure DC on their filaments. Again, reverence to past times begs the use of vacuum tube rectification with its very gentle voltage rise-time. But to bring the performance up to modern demands, we use two rectifiers to enable the use of very substantial filter / reservoir capacitors... over 1300 microfarads in the B+ rail- much improved from the 4 or 8 microfarads utilized in the 1930's.
When several other manufacturers started selling single-ended amps with 5 to 9 watts of power, we understood subjectively and objectively the good part of the story: the superb mid range, the delicate detail, the inherent simplicity. The bad news was that there were almost no speakers efficient enough to help form a dynamically viable system. The worst news was that either these single-ended amps cost more than the condo and or they had specs that could only be read as a joke. As the triode fans increased, more efficient speakers became available and several fanatics began to dismiss push-pull as a bad thing to be avoided at all costs. We objected to such blanket generalities and stressed that the push-pull done right with truly phase-balanced transformers, quality parts throughout and well designed circuitry has proven to be a superb technique. We also enjoy single-ended topology but only when it is done right, mostly because we expect flat frequency response and low distortion out of an amplifier. We knew that we could achieve this in a properly conceived single-ended design. We chose to rise to the challenge of designing special circuitry that could be switched "on the fly" From 12 watts in parallel SINGLE-ENDED to 25 watts in PUSH-PULL which, we believe is unique in the industry.
The Output transformer (hand-wound in our own factory) is of complex design employing inordinately high primary inductance to compensate for the mandatory magnetic "gap" required for the uni-direction current and voltage flow of the single-ended output stage. Another factor in the single ended triode saga (currently enjoying a wide spread popularity) is demand for little (or sometimes zero) negative feedback. We at Manley Labs believe in the judicious or sensible amount of feedback to refine and maximize performance. Our Neo-Classic SE/PP300B gives you the choice in precision switched 1 dB steps to go from ZERO dB's to 10 dB's of negative feedback. Even with zero negative feedback, this amp is cleaner and flatter than any single-ended amp we know of. For more information about variable feedback read Notes on Negative Feedback.
One interesting aspect of negative feedback is it gives a higher damping factor. Conventional wisdom would have us think that the higher the damping factor, the better. Our experience is that the optimum damping factor is not infinity and that it depends on the speaker, the room. and the taste of the listener. In other words, the optimum is variability, and this we provide. This amp satisfies us as long time amplifier builders, amazes the critics in several well known magazines and is bound to satisfy you with the ability to fit into your system and your expectations. BUT REMEMBER PLEASE the overall facts of power ratings versus loudspeaker sensitivity and room size when electing to venture into lower power amplifiers (less than 50 watts) and especially when contemplating single-ended topology. Please read Considerations of Amplifier Power for more info.
As highly regarded as the Retros were by dealers ,audiophiles and reviewers, the Neos take the design and the sonics to a new level. In 2000, Mitch Margolis completely overhauled the previous "Retro" model to create the Neo-Classic Version you see above.. So what's new with this Neo-Classic version you ask?
Now... onto the techno mumble jumble... here's all the guts improvements we made in 2001. Mitch spent six months doing all this:
The driver stage was completely re-engineered. Peak output volts of driver increased by 60V p-p in PP mode. Clever new driver circuit delivers way better drive, with less punishing plate volts, and less THD. This offers enough drive even for more exotic tubes such as VV30B, etc...
The NEO's have WAY improved power bandwidth. NEO's deliver much more power at higher and lower freq's than the ol' Retro's did. We did rescale the B+ and reduced idle plate dissipation on the NEO's 300Bs for better tube reliability.
New power max ratings are 12 watts in SE mode and 25 watts in PP mode. BUT because of better bandwidth delivery and better driver "drive" into 300B's these NEO's sound louder and "seem" to be more powerful. They distort much less early when pushing the power envelope. The power supply sags-on-demand at a much high point than before for more headroom. It is all beefier 'n' heftier.
The heater (300B "cathode" which is directly heated triode design) now has 40dB less ripple. NEO design has MORE capacity in heater supply and LOTS of PI filtering! So the result is a quieter amplifier. Big time.
Now in the NEO version, the B+ rectification is all-real-Full Wave Bridge vacuum tube rectification. Even more better. Especially sonically for you vacuum tube rectifier fans...
The NEO'S chassis was redesigned to accommodate a much bigger power tranny. Huger VA. Next frame size up. Cooler running. Much more able to deliver-on-demand. Less PSU sag. Kick-ass. And now, finally QUIET! REALLY! There wasn't enough room on the old Retros for next frame size up to achieve a nice'n'quiet power transformer design. Now the NEO's chassis is big enough to have a big enough power transformer that is really silent and running on holiday.
Bias supply is now cleverly cross-coupled so that changing one tube's bias doesn't whack the other one out. This is very cool.
We even isolated the input B+ for more stable input B+ supply. Again, so when pushed, the whole amp doesn't drag everybody down with it.
We added a MUTE switch on the front panel. SE-PP switch on the other side of front panel.
Power switch at the IEC so all those nasty AC volts don't come up and infect the input stages.
Discarded the transformer-balanced XLR input. Because WHAT'S THE POINT??? At gunpoint, we will make a balanced XLR transformer coupled input available "upon special request"... but you need to have a bigger gun than EveAnna does...
Still has those nice sounding MultiCap® coupling caps and even more of 'em....
Now NEO has nice beautiful WBT binding posts that everybody loves. Still has impedance load switch as before.
Service is now a piece of cake in the NEO design. The main PCB can now be lifted out for service without a soldering iron... if switches get banged or broken they can be user replaced with a phillips screwdriver to remove the bottom stainless-steel (now) cover and then remove faceplate with little allen key, then unscrew the switch with pliers or (better) correct nut driver, then unplugged out old switch then new one plugged in with switch assembly from us. Easy as pie!
But, just in case, we did invent newer stronger foams and packaging so hopefully no more breakies....
And bottom line, in all our listening tests, this NEO is very much improved. Now with this six months of re-engineering of the Neo-Classic SE/PP 300Bs, "THD BE-GONE!!!!"
Vacuum Tubes: 2 x 300B (Output), 1 x 6SN7 (Driver), 1 x 6SL7 (Input), 2 x 5AR4 (Rectifier). (Units prior to 2011 used 5U4 rectifier tubes.) Output Power @ 1Khz with 5 dB FeedBack in SINGLE-ENDED: 11 Watts @ 3% THD Output Power @ 1Khz with 5 dB FeedBack in PUSH-PULL: 24 Watts @ 1.5% THD Frequency Response with 5 dB FB in SINGLE-ENDED: 15 Hz - 15 Khz ±0.5 dB (measured at 5 watts) Frequency Response with 5 dB FB in PUSH-PULL: 10 Hz - 20 Khz ±0.5 dB GAIN SE Mode 0dB Feedback Setting: 30 dB GAIN SE Mode 10dB Feedback Setting: 20 dB Input Sensitivity with 5db FB SINGLE ENDED: 700mV for Maximum Power Input Sensitivity with 5db FB PUSH-PULL: 450mV for Maximum Power Input Sensitivity with 5db FB SINGLE ENDED: 165mV for 1V output into 8 Ohms Input Sensitivity with 5db FB PUSH-PULL: 160mV for 1V output into 8 Ohms S/N Ratio: SINGLE ENDED: 83.5dB Ref. 1W; 2.83v//8 Ohms,20KHz BW; 5dB FB. S/N Ratio: PUSH-PULL: 85.4dB Ref. 1W; 2.83v//8 Ohms; 20KHz BW; 5dB FB. Dynamic Range: SINGLE ENDED: 94dB Ref. 3% THD; 20KHz BW; 5dB FB. Dynamic Range: PUSH-PULL: 99.5dB Ref. 1.5% THD; 20KHz BW; 5dB FB. Input Impedance: 100 kOhm, direct coupled. Optimum Speaker Load (switchable): 4 to 12 Ohm range appropriate for 4 & 8 Ohm speakers - 12 to 20 Ohm range appropriate for 16 Ohm speakers Actual Output Impedance SINGLE ENDED: 2.25 Ohms Actual Output Impedance PUSH-PULL: 1.86 Ohms Damping Factor SINGLE ENDED: 3.5 Damping Factor PUSH-PULL: 4.3 Maximum Power Consumption: 240 Watts Mains Voltage Frequency: 50~ 60Hz Power transformer factory set for 100V, 120V or 220-240VAC operation for original destination country's mains voltage. Operating Mains Voltage changeable with power transformer re-wiring and fuse value change. Mains Fuse 100-120VAC operation: MDA 3 Amp SLO-BLO Ceramic Time-Delay fuse Mains Fuse 220-240VAC operation: MDA 1.5 Amp SLO-BLO Ceramic Time-Delay fuse B+ Fuse: MDA 400 mA SLO-BLO Ceramic Time-Delay fuse Badge Illumination: Units produced before 7/2003 use 8V, 0.3A "Fuse-Lamp" 1/4" X 1 1/4" - Serial numbers after NSEPP314 use LED illumination which probably won't burn out Dimensions: W= 8.5, D= 23, H= 9 inches, Including projecting controls and parts Minimum Mounting Surface Dimensions: Feet Footprint = W= 7.5" D= 18" Shipping Weight: 41 lbs. Each.